Cubs overhaul coming
Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti expects the disappointing Cubs to start unloading players shortly and won't be surprised to see Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones, Aramis Ramirez, and perhaps even Greg Maddux and Kerry Wood placed on the trading block.
Woeful Cubs need a butcher, not a Baker
May 25, 2006
BY JAY MARIOTTI SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
All you need to know about Dusty Baker is that Greg Maddux, who sometimes has to be nudged to make sure he's awake, pummeled a water jug with a bat Wednesday. This startling scene came only four days after Michael Barrett cold-cocked A.J. Tomato Can in a punch now imitated in taverns throughout an angst-ridden Cubdom. Why are the players so compelled to vent anger with violent public outbursts?
Maybe because Baker, your Dead Manager Walking, continues to show all the daily emotion of a resin bag.
It's inconceivable that club bosses Andy MacPhail and Jim Hendry, men who shouldn't have their jobs themselves, still want to reward Baker with a two-year extension. If Hendry has created this 2006 folly with his foolish overreliance on Kerry Wood and Mark Prior and wild miscalculations on several everyday players, Baker has driven the Cubs into the ground by showing no ability to do what he supposedly does best -- motivate and overachieve. Hey, at least Maddux and Barrett care enough about losing 18 of 22 games, including three to the barely coherent Florida Marlins, to wig out.
''At least I did it right, if there's such a thing. ... I don't like to lose,'' Maddux said of his unprecedented tantrum.
The Rev. Johnnie B.? He keeps chewing his toothpicks, rolling up his wristbands and comparing the Cubs to the 2005 Houston Astros, who started 15-30 before staging a dramatic turnaround and reaching the World Series. That Baker would make such a ludicrous parallel as his team was being embarrassed by the Marlins, whose $14.9 million payroll is lower than the salaries of a dozen major-league players, shows just how delusional he has become. The Cubs, among other issues, don't have a certain Roger Clemens, who is available to the highest bidder right now but has made it clear he wants to play for a serious contender, which rules out a team that is 12-1/2 games behind the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals and 81/2 out of a wild-card berth.
"Our whole thing right now is to get to .500, hopefully by the break, and then we will have all our team back,'' Baker told reporters in Florida. "Then I will take my chances. ... Everybody is thinking it's over. It's a long ways from over. I remember last year, Houston had tombstones in the paper. Weren't they dead or something? You never know what's going to happen in this game.''
What I do know is the difficult look of the upcoming schedule. Much as this feels like rock bottom in Cubdom, the cranes are still digging. Even if Derrek Lee returns in a few weeks -- and please don't rush him back too soon and risk seriously reinjuring his wrist -- the Cubs have too many problems on the field and upstairs in their heads to pull off an amazing rally. Baker is so out of it, he keeps mentioning Wood and Prior as lightning rods for a second-half revival. ''It's hard to find two guys of that quality on any team,'' he said. ''You feel a lot more comfortable running those guys out there. These are guys we counted on. It's not the savior, but it's pretty close.'' Yo, Dusty? Wood experienced predictable shoulder discomfort after his Tuesday start -- and a wild one at that -- and may miss his next start. Down in the Rookie League, Prior's velocity is such a concern that some wonder if he'll return to the big leagues this season.
About time to back up the truck
So forget after miracles. And concentrate on reality: The Cubs, once again, have to start over in a year when they failed miserably to join the drought-ending triad of the White Sox and Red Sox. In a few weeks, Hendry can begin a fire sale by putting several players on the trade market, including Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones, his regrettable offseason ideas. I wouldn't be opposed to Aramis Ramirez, a major disappointment and inspirational stick in the mud, also being on that list. So sadly, I might have to trade Maddux. I'd include Wood, too, seeing how the Cubs won't be picking up his $13 million option next season, but no team will trade for him if he's not consistently healthy. And you know he won't be.
If a player dump is coming, then there's no need to perpetuate the idea that Baker is returning. It is rumored that Hendry and Baker already have a verbal agreement on the manager's extension and are simply waiting for an impressive winning streak to make an announcement. They could be waiting years. And even if the Cubs were to pick up some ground, Baker isn't the man to lead a reconstruction. Nor is Hendry, for that matter, except his contract was extended two years by MacPhail last month.
That is what bothers me most about the collapse of the Cubs -- the arrogance of the men in charge. Baker and Hendry have underperformed so woefully that it would be within the Tribune Co.'s right to dismiss both. It makes no sense to keep them when they've presided over a ghastly free-fall since Bartman Night and aren't likely to stop the bleeding anytime soon.
Brenly wouldn't even need airfare
Remember, as close as the TV booth, the Cubs have a potential manager who has won a World Series. Bob Brenly beat the Yankees as a rookie manager in 2001, then fell out of favor three years later and was replaced before the team was sold. Brenly's dugout strategies often were questioned, but the fat ring on his finger is his response. He has said repeatedly that Dusty is his friend and he doesn't want to manage, but if the Cubs and an exhausted Baker were to mutually agree on his departure in the coming weeks, why not summon Brenly for an interim run?
And with Pierre struggling to keep his on-base percentage above his playing weight, won't it soon be time for Felix Pie? We've been hearing for years about Hendry's prized prospect in a bottoming-out farm system, so let's see if the kid is the real deal or a Pie in the sky. In trading veterans, Hendry can replenish his system with talent. Then, next winter, the Cubs can spend some of their cash-cow revenues on serious free agents -- possibly Carlos Lee and Barry Zito. It figures, of course, that Nomar Garciaparra would stay healthy and have a great start for the Dodgers when he barely could walk on the North Side. And that Corey Patterson, a maddening bust here, would improve with the Orioles. And that pitcher Ricky Nolasco, who went to Florida in the dreadful Pierre deal, would blossom with the Marlins as did former Cubs farmhand Dontrelle Willis.
Keeping Johnnie B. Baker cuts against the grain of the struggles ahead. He'll have a much better team in Seattle or Arizona while Hendry finds a young guy -- go buy out Joe Girardi -- to run the rebooted Cubs. When it was suggested he might be the fall guy, Dusty deflected the notion and said it can be avoided. ''Yeah, by winning and turning it around,'' he said. ''I believe that, definitely. If I don't, then we'll see. At this point, I'm not thinking about anybody being the fall guy.''
Cubdom is thinking otherwise. And he's it.
Jay Mariotti is a regular on ''Around the Horn'' at 4 p.m. on ESPN. Send e-mail to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
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